I recently found myself driving north on California’s iconic Highway 1, on my way once again, to the Mendocino Coast. This time the Brewery Gulch Inn.
I’ve been to the Mendocino Coast enough times to know how beautiful and unpredictable it can be. Days start off crisp and cool even in the summer. By midday the air softens and the scent of pine rises, sprinkled with salt from the coast, and it’s easy to feel energized in a way that just doesn’t happen in my “big city” life. However, spring and summer anywhere along the California coastline can mean fog just as easily as it can sunshine. The kind of fog when even a shirt-sweater-slicker combo can’t completely shield you from the damp. So, as they say, dress in layers. You never know what you’re going to get – and that’s part of the magic too.
On this particular morning the sky is like blue enamel. Bright spangles of sunlight bounce off the windshield as we leave the silent redwoods behind and cross the bridge at the Navarro river. We wind our way into Mendocino and I am once again astounded by the vistas of worn cliffs, foaming ocean and empty beaches. It’s California coastal driving at its very best and I never get tired of it.
Mendocino is as much a state of mind is as it is a place on the map. And its allure is as hard to describe as the weather. It’s both ragged at the edges and pristine. It’s a place where the wine is world-class and the food is surf-to-fork and farm-to-face, but much of it is sold on the honor system. I saw more than one place where you simply helped yourself to a bag of apples, a dozen eggs or an artist’s creation – then stuffed the money into an unattended box. Mendocino is where Californians go to find the “real” California, only to discover that it looks more like a New England fishing village than a famously mellow California artists’ community. It’s this sort of duality that makes Mendocino such a fascinating destination for me.
And I do mean destination. Mendocino is not “on the way” to anywhere. The payoff is immersion in a tiny, undeveloped and secluded world, where life tends to follow its own rhythms, where nature looms larger and the concerns of the my “big city” life are very far away. That’s also part of the magic I described.
Which is how I found myself wrapped in a wool blanket sitting on the redwood deck of Brewery Gulch Inn waiting for the sun to set over the Pacific ocean. Deer and wild turkey roam the meadow, a hummingbird stops mid-flight to hover his hello, and an enormous steel and glass fireplace glows in the great room behind me while I sip a glass of local wine and snuggle deeper into my Pendleton.
Sound contrived? Too much like the poster on the wall of your doctor’s office? Perhaps, but to me there are few things as enjoyable as watching the sun set while the surf smashes and the wine chills. This poster perfect life is what I love best about the Mendocino coast and Brewery Gulch Inn.
Brewery Gulch Inn is a 10-room hotel perched on an ocean-view bluff that was once home to Mendocino’s first brewery. It’s a redwood-shingled, three-story structure that was built in 2001 from 150-year-old logs salvaged from the bottom of a local river. It’s hard to imagine, but this timber sat, buried in the silt, for more than a century. The cold and the muck created timber that is uniquely beautiful and fascinating.
But the beauty of the wood is just one aspect of what makes the inn so inviting. Like Mendocino itself there’s a casual elegance and a real eye towards quality. From the sheets on the bed to the plush carpeting beneath your feet, the details all keep an eye towards comfort. The light-filled central atrium acts as a great room and effortlessly becomes all things to all guests: welcome mat, reading room, lookout tower, game room and of course a place to dine.
I suppose the inn would best be described as a Bed & Breakfast, but I’d hate for you to get the wrong idea. This is not an old-school (lace doilies, potpourri, quiche-and-coffee) style B&B. Mendocino inns tend to be more spare and less Laura Ashley. Still, I put Brewery Gulch Inn into the B&B category because the food is included in your stay and it’s such an important part of the experience.
Brewery Gulch Inn employs a serious, full-time executive chef with a resume that includes opening of Kuleto’s in San Francisco and cooking at The Ritz-Carlton. Chef Peg Davis is exuberant in the kitchen and her talent brings a gourmet flair that helped Brewery Gulch Inn land a spot on Travel + Leisure magazine’s list of World’s Best Hotels.
Chef Peg may be a serious cook, but dinner at Brewery Gulch Inn takes the form of a casual yet refined cocktail party. Local wine and beer is served as guests help themselves, tapas-style, to an array of choices which often focus on locally-sourced, organic ingredients. Highlights during our stay include a lamb tenderloin with sun-dried tomato relish and morel cream sauce as well as little tarts of duck confit.
I started by comparing Brewery Gulch Inn with a B&B. So I must tell you about the daily-cooked-to-order, seasonally-changing breakfast. As hearty or as lean as you like, Chef Peg cooks up breakfasts to die for. The menu may change but you can count on excellent housemade pastries, organic eggs and the inn’s signature dish – Millionaire’s Bacon. It’s a sweet and spicy thick-cut eye-opener that’s pressed with red pepper flakes and brown sugar then baked in the oven. I know how it’s made because the chef shared the recipe with me. I even have a video of her making Millionaire’s Bacon. GREG
Brewery Gulch Inn, 9401 North Highway One, Mendocino, CA.
I received compensation in order to bring information to this blog about Brewery Gulch Inn. All opinions are my own. The first and third photos are by Jay Graham and were supplied by Brewery Gulch Inn.
What an amazing place, a true destination. Back in the early 90’s when I worked for the corporate offices of a grocery chain, my job had me driving occasionally throughout NE FL/South GA and there were a lot of honor markets set up by the road. I’d stop and pick up a big bag of vidalia onions and leave a $10 in the box.
Millionaire bacon.….huh, we BBQrs have been making that for years, we’re just uncouth and call it “pig candy” 🙂 I gotta talk to our marketing department!
We love staying in Mendocino. It’s been a while. This place looks really nice, I’ll definitely look into it.
Highway 1 is the best drive.
Wow…what an incredible place, Greg! I keep meaning to plan a trip out to California as I’ve never been to the West Coast. A stop at Brewery Gulch Inn is a definite requirement…but only if that turkey is still there. 🙂 Oh, and in the words of Robert Palmer, this bacon sounds simple irresistible!
We used to have a turkey that wandered through our neighborhood. Perhaps he figured out how to make it to Brewery Gulch. If he did, I’m sorry I didn’t follow.
The bacon looks great, and I think it would be great in a salad. Or maybe added to your cherry relish? Love the turkey photo!
Lucky you! Sounds like a fun place. Love that turkey picture! Thanks for this.
Oh Greg, I want to get in my car and start driving like I have done so many times. I love your description of the California coast, my home, and I love Mendocino. I will check out the Inn.
Look at those turkeys!! We have a deer trail that goes through the cedar glade behind our lake house — but I’ve never seen wild turkeys. A lodge with a fascinating story — I want to be there!